I’m currently working on a simple corridor shooter with a mutant / zombie theme. It’s called Area51 ( at the moment ) and as the title suggests I want it to feel like a cross between a 50’s B movie and an episode of X-Files.
The perspective of the game is fixed to behind the gun. So a little bit like Doom in that sense but none of the scenery moves.
The goal of the game is not yet defined although I keep coming back to the idea of simply escaping from an over-run laboratory complex. It’s just that when I put it like that it sounds horribly cliched and a bit dull. So I’m still trying to figure that out.
The point of this post though is not the game’s story as such more the thinking behind the design and the order of events if you like that I typically go through in arriving at a “final” game. More importantly I’m challenging the way I’ve always designed my games.
Ordinarily I like to take an idea and play with it until it feels so natural and fun that it quite clearly belongs at the centre of my game.
I did this with every game so far and perhaps most notably with Galactians 2 in that I was determined to have the alien bugs “splat” on collision. This is my centrepiece. A core to the game if you like. Everything else in the game will be built around the simple concept of shoot & splat.
I played with this idea for days before it actually became a game.
As with all my shooting games I like there to be an intense feeling about the combat. I like lots of bullets and a fair sprinkling of bombs and bad guys to aim at.
So here I am with Area51 and I’m trying to find a direction based around my “core” concept.
The core concept in this case is quite simple – spray bullets down the corridor at the advancing bad guys and watch them squirm and spray blood until eventually they splat.
Fill the room with such monsters and essentially repeat the above until all monsters are defeated.
I was hopelessly in to Doom almost 20 years ago and it is this cartoon splatterthon style that I aim to replicate. But there is a subtle difference between the 2 experiences ( not including the obvious visual differences ) and that is in how the game is controlled.
In Doom you had to point the marine in the right direction then pull the trigger. In my game you simply aim a crosshair at the bad guy and the rest is done for you.
Actually swinging the viewpoint of the marine around in Doom is quite a skill and therefore something to be learned before the game can be successfully beaten.
Simply moving a crosshair across a static scene is not so hard. So although Doom and my game have a similar core concept – shoot the hell out of bad guys – they are in reality a million miles apart in terms of the experience.
What I need to do is find a balance between the thrill of shooting stuff to hell and applying some kind of a challenge and skill curve.
As the father of modern video gaming Nolan Bushnell put it all those years ago, games should be easy to learn and difficult to master.
So far my game is simple to learn and simple to master. Watching monsters explode in a sea of bullets will only hold our interest for so long if there’s no challenge.
So I added another dynamic – ammo.
Rather than just spraying endless rounds down the corridor I wanted the player to have the concept of ammo protection. To aid this I started hurling supplies in wooden crates down the corridor. When shot the player could tap health or one of the two ammo types to collect.
My game suddenly became as much of an exercise in ammo conservation as it did a shooter. Much like Doom. I was happy.
But still the game was a little too easy. So I looked again at Doom in more detail.
The weapons in Doom ranged from pea shooter to a rid-the-room-of-everything gun.
The action was staged such that you didn’t get the Big F* Gun until later in the game. In between that and the poxy pea shooter you had such things as a shotgun ( never bettered ), chain gun, rocket launcher and plasma rifle. Progressively more deadly and intense and progressively more thirsty for your precious ammo. Better still if you let fly with a rocket within 10 feet of a wall or monster it tended to smart a little.
Looking at Area51 I realised that I needed a similar constraint on weapon usage.
Although I’ve yet to implement the changes I suspect that the two weapons that I have that use Plasma might be benefit from being a little volatile at close range. Quite possibly useless against a certain monster as well. Not sure yet.
Finally, the bad guys in Doom shot back. From fireballs, to magic to just plain bullets you had to duck for cover around every corner. I need to find a way to force the player to protect himself against attacks. Perhaps using a shield or some such physical barrier. Clearly I can’t display the viewpoint changing to be behind a wall or ducking for cover so I need to be a little creative.
So the point of this rather hasty blog post is that it’s not always such a great idea to use a “fun” mechanic as the centrepiece of your game. At least not without giving it some serious consideration.
The game’s design, i.e. the challenge that you ultimately want the player to overcome, should always be your main focus. Otherwise you wind up trying to squeeze a game in to something that you become quite unhealthily precious about.
Although I will keep the concept of blasting monsters in a cramped space I will adapt the game to be much more of a challenge. Hopefully without taking away any of the skills required to complete it.
And that’s the point. Unless your game has skills to be learned in order to overcome your challenges your game is going to be pretty flat.